Plastic Free July

As plastic free July draws to a close I find myself thinking a good deal about the plastic packaging that the supermarket system of food retailing demands. 

There were some pretty serious promises made by large retailers to appease consumer demand after David Attenborough’s blue planet documentary in 2017. Big business has become tremendously adept at hijacking good causes to improve the bottom line. This green wash, jumping on the band wagon and making promises that all too frequently are not kept is not good enough. It is dishonest and large retailers need to be held accountable.

Single use plastic in our food system,  chemicals in our food chain, animal welfare, and of course the biggest issue of our time, climate change, are not marketing devices to be used to improve profitability. These issues need to be tackled, they need to be taken very seriously and big business could be part of the solution, why would they not be? Ultimately being part of the solution will pay large dividends in the end both for the businesses and the planet. But those involved in green washing need to be taken to task for broken promises. 

I am well aware of the argument that plastic is necessary to reduce food waste and there is some merit in this.  But it is not a statement to hide behind. The statement too that ‘we have tried loose fruit and veg but consumers choose the plastic packs’ is not good enough either. Look at France, the majority of fruit and veg is sold loose or in compostable packs.

Any system takes time to change and rather than making empty promises, these large multiples could be investing in their farmers to help them change and switch to different packaging, paying a fairer price for the produce would obviously help too. Ultimately of course that may mean a little more for your cucumber or pack of carrots but is that really a bad thing? Our compostable bags are four times more expensive than their plastic counterparts. 

Ultimately the plastic clad supermarket aisles are a product of a food system that maximises profit for the end seller: the supermarket and nothing more. 

As far as I can see nothing has changed in the last 5 years. if anything there is more plastic on the shelves now than there was 5 years ago when many of these pledges were made.

I remember looking at compostable bags back in 2006 but back then the materials could not be had. In 2018 we were the first company in Ireland to make all our fixed boxes plastic free and over 95% of all the fresh produce we sell is plastic free and will remain that way. Our plastic free grocery aisle continues to grow. But more than any of that our whole farming model is based around our reusable boxes that we collect and reuse each week. 

Your support has enabled this, thank you!

Kenneth

Here are all our links if you’d like to place an order or enter our competition to win an Irish plastic free box 👉 linktr.ee/greenearthorganics

Our Children & The Planet

I will never forget when myself Jenny and my dad put up our first polytunnel back in 2005. It was a milestone and like a dream come though, I will never forget it. 

We were so proud of ourselves, that was our first season growing food and we tried it all. We were so enthusiastic, we wanted all the plants in that little tunnel, aubergines, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers. If truth be known there was very little harvest from that tunnel in the first year. We had plants but little enough of the fruits of our labour! Nevertheless, this did not discourage us in any way.

We were on a journey we had closed the door on a different chapter of our lives, lives lived far from the land and with little connection with our food. Certainly, there was always a burning deep desire to do the right thing by the environmentand this our mad chance to embrace that vision. 

It was two years later in 2007 that our first child was born and that was a momentous occasion. I do remember many things from that day, but one that I am sure most people do not experience on the birth of their first child was the doorbellringing (We had a home birth) and a guy that was fixing a fridge on our van wondering if he could talk to me about a problem he was having. I think the noise in the back round ended that conversation swiftly.

Then we watched Hannah grow and at the age of two she was able to go and pick her own tomatoes and cucumbers from the polytunnel. When Ella came along it was clear she was going to be our earth child and she spent more time in those polytunnels than anybody else, I am surprised we had any tomatoes left to harvest for you, our customers. 

In hindsight remembering those moments and appreciating them seems like it was a perfect and ideal life. There was of course plenty of smiles but there was all the other stuff too. We were guilty of having no time, no money, and no energy, it was truly exhausting, starting a farm, a business and a familyat the same time. I would recommend that if you are embarking on this journey that you spread those events out a little!

But we got through. The days when we have had schools on our farm, and you see the amazed face of a child when they pull a carrot from the ground it makes you remember what is important

The journey has certainly left its scars, but it has also allowed a deeper appreciation of what we have, how lucky we are. If nothing else seeing the respect Ella, Joe and Hannah have for the environment is something that I am proud of. If we achieve nothing else on this journey, we will have achieved something positive.

Our job here is to spread a message that nature and our land are beautiful and precious, and all living things are to be respected. We as a business, a farm and individuals really do have an obligation to take care with our actions. It is on us all, of course we can all point the finger but what good does that do? We need to take responsibility for our actions and do the right thing, is that easy? Absolutely not. Is it necessary?Completely. Therein I believe lies our greatest hope for our children and all that we share this land with.

Have a fantastic week and thank you for sharing our vision and for your continued support.

Kenneth

PS. Have you signed up to our new repeat order system yet? It’s the best way to never forget your order deadline. Head to the website and give it a try, any problems use the Chat button or send us an email and we’ll get back to you in normal office hours. www.greenearthorganics.ie

We Need Your Help

We need your help. We need to survive the summer we have so much local organic harvest from our farm and other small organic farms here in Ireland and we have seen our customer base disappear over the last 5 weeks.

It has been a never-ending rollercoaster and so difficult one week to the next to predict what is around the corner. It is in times like these that we especially need to know why we are doing what we are doing. The irony of course is at these very moments we lose focus and just holding it together is all we can do. At the same time, it can be this singular dedication to a cause greater than ourselves that keeps us going. 

The little idea that a small farm here in the West coast of Ireland could help fix this planet, help fix our food system is our “WHY”. 

It has been a tremendously busy week on our farm. We have planted 70,000 leeks, our final planting of winter brassicas isgoing into the ground today. As I write some 50,000 plants are being transplanted ,that brings to a total brassica count of nearly 150,000 plants. That is a lot of locally grown food, all done of course without chemicals.

Kornel and Patrick have done amazing work in our polytunnels where our 1000+ tomato plants and several hundred cucumber plants are finally bearing fruit. This is one of my favourite moments looking on the well organised tunnels and tasting the amazing tomatoes.

Emmanuel our farm manager and his team of field workers have been working so hard. At this time of the year, it always feels like we are teetering on the edge of losing control, but thankfully that hasn’t happened yet.

Over the last couple of weeks finally we have had the ideal growing conditions and that has meant harvest season has burst upon us.  It also means we have had the perfect mix of too much work, an abundant harvest, planting deadlines slipping away and weeds in hyperdrive, it is frantic and will be for another week or two.

Then there is the backdrop of the week just gone where we have the lowest orders in 18 months right slap bang in the middle of our best harvest season and our highest cost base (covering holiday time, a team of 10 people on the farm from 2 in February, an investment of 6 months and nearly €100k to get to the harvest season)

What we are harvesting right now:

  • Lettuce green and red
  • Rainbow chard and Spinach
  • Courgettes and cucumbers
  • Some tomatoes
  • Cabbage, Broccoli and Romanesco
  • Kale green and black
  • Radish and Salad
  • Beetroot

What we are sourcing from other small organic farms week

  • New season IRISH potatoes
  • Scallions, fennel courgettes and cucumbers
  • Mushrooms
  • Fennel and French beans

It is worth mentioning I think and especially as it is plastic free July that we were the first company in Ireland to make all our boxes plastic free, reuse being the essence of our delivery service.

We need your help, we need to survive the summer we need you if you can at all to place an order, to tell your friends, your family, or your neighbours, tell everybody, bring us with you on holidays or donate a box to charity.

Thank you so much for your support.

Kenneth

Thank You!

Thank you to so many who have responded to our plea last week.

The level of generosity from all of you has blown us away.  Our farm is in full harvest mode now and we are bringing in so much produce daily that our stores are full.

Not only that, but we are supporting several other local organic farms to fill your boxes. Your support has meant everything to us and to them.

Every year we see a large drop in orders when we are at our most productive on the farm and this year has been the biggest drop off ever. This is quite understandable, as we all need a break and a holiday. 

July is the month of local IRISH plenty and your support every week keeps our business afloat, we rely on it, the supermarkets won’t miss you, but we will!

If you can at all continue to support us through the summer, it makes all the difference and it helps us ensure all our harvest we have been working towards for the last six months gets a home.

The last 16 months here on the farm have been a never-endingrollercoaster and so difficult one week to the next to predict what is around the corner. I know many small businesses up and down the country have gone through a very rough time and we are grateful to still be here and open and have thesupport of you our customers. 

But it is in times like these that we especially need to know why we are doing what we are doing. The irony of course is at these very moments we lose focus and just holding it together is all we can do. At the same time, it can be this singular dedication to a cause greater than ourselves that keeps us going. Whether that is putting food on the table for our families, or beating an illness, or keeping a farm and business together when at times it seems close to unravelling.

The little idea that a small farm here in the West coast of Ireland could help fix this planet, help fix our food system was our “WHY”. This of course is a huge ask, an insurmountable mountain it would seem. But there is change everywhere, more and more organic growers, more and more people eating mostly plant-based foods, more and more sustainable locally focused consumers. In my view this is one solution to the greater climate crisis.

The ethos of our business: Zero waste/plastic free, carbon neutrality (solar panels cover our packing shed and our first 100% electric van is now on the road),our sustainable farming practices, the support and commitment to other organic local growers (And not just greenwash as with the supermarkets) and supplying fresh healthy organic food remains the core of our business .  

Our founding principles will never change, and I think more than ever this is the path we as society need to thread.

Thank you for your support

Kenneth.

A Plea

Last year at the end of June I asked for your help, and I was humbled by the level of support we received. It is always with a great sense of irony that we head into July. It is the official end of the hungry gap. We are catapulted from a frenzy of farming activity and a dearth of harvest in early June to a level of activity bordering on the insane and an overflowing harvest basket. July is the time when we have a plentiful harvest, and it is the very same time that many of you break your routine with cooking. The last year has been difficult for all, and we all need a break, a break from the routine and lockdowns. 

This summer is proving to be the biggest challenge yet. We have increased our planting rates; we have developed relationships with other local organic farms and now when the time of Irish plenty arrives we find that you our customers are leaving us for all the usual reasons, holidays, not cooking, routines out the window and we understand completely. But the downturn this summer for us has been sharp and severe over the space of three weeks we have seen the level of ordering drop off dramatically, this is leaving us with so much surplus harvest with nowhere to go but back into the ground. 

This time of every year we also see a large increase in labour costs as we are now up to 11 people on the farm (all local lads this year which is amazing) and we have also hired many new packing staff to cover the extra work over the last few months and to cover holidays. It is a double downturn for us, as our costs go up dramatically and our sales go down dramatically. Anybody will tell you this is not a good way to run a business. The initial start of this growing season on our organic farm, seeds, plants, fertiliser (organic), compost, contractors and labour are very high, before you harvest even one bean. All of this is necessary to make the food in the fields happen.

Growing food at the best of times is not a money-making enterprise, far from it, we only ever expect the farm to break even and most years this is a stretch to achieve. We grow the food, because we love to do it, because sustainable agriculture is something we strongly believe in. We have PV cells generating our electricity, we have just invested in our first zero emission electric van, we collect our rainwater, we plant trees, and hedgerows, we use only plastic free packaging. We educate people on how important biodiversity is, and to get everybody involved in thinking about the planet and the environment, where our food comes and how it is produced is our critical philosophy.

All of this takes time and energy, it all costs money and at the end of the day although everybody wants to enjoy their job and although nearly everybody that works with us believes in our values and our mission, they still need to get paid.

So this is a plea, a plea to ask you to order next week, to find a way (if you can at all) to continue supporting us over the summer, to tell your friends and family to order from us, or if you can’t to pay your box forward to our Charity (Foodshare Kerry), just order a charity box online that we top-up with extra produce from the farm.

The boxes this week are loaded with the most amazing fresh local Irish organic produce, including, spinach, salad, lettuce, romanesco, cucumbers, kale, scallions, some even have new IRISH organic potatoes. The weather is meant to be hot so we figured a good helping of salad would be very much appreciated. So please if you can at all do order. Your support as always is very much appreciated.

Thank you!

Kenneth

PLACE YOUR ORDER HERE

Careful What You Wish For

It is ironic, I sometimes think, that the time of the greatest local bounty coincides with the least number of customers.  So, if you can at all do not forget about us, take us with you if you are going on a staycation or better still, let us deliver to you there. Please tell your friends, neighbours and families about us as every extra box helps us survive the summer.

During the height of the stress of the pandemic there was no time, and we were busy to the point of breaking, but now with a little space to think the realisation that we have run a marathon without the training is hitting home.

I have harvested a sum total of about two cucumbers so far this season. Thankfully, the farm team have been doing epic work and that has allowed me to be jumping around between so many different things.

Now we are trying to catch up with the growth. Thinking and putting the structures in place that will allow us to stabilise and grow is more important than ever.  Conscious change is harder than change that is forced upon you, this is thought lead, painstaking change, it requires a great deal of energy and like all change it is hard and takes time. Ultimately though, it is a good thing.

We as a sustainable food producer now have an opportunity to make a big difference in our corner of the world. This opportunity to have a real positive impact on the environment has been handed to us by you. To that end we have an obligation to make it work. 

There is absolutely no question that the easiest route is to leave things as they are and keep doing things the way we always have. But this approach means we are not innovating in how we grow food or in how we get the food to you. Without constant forward motion we cannot hope to compete or survive against the supermarkets and their consistent devaluation of fresh food.

Often the price of growth is having to do things you do not necessarily like or want to do
(at least initially), it can pull you away from what you love and that is a big sacrifice.

I love being out in the fields watching the crops, understanding what is going on and if I am honest, I love driving the tractors (who would not I guess) but recently there has been little time for that. So, is the price of progress worth it?

On the farm it is clear. The price is worth it, and it is seen in better crops, improved biodiversity, more trees and hedgerows and strangely more people.  Because of the innovation we have a better farm and this year we have even more to harvest and some of the best crops ever. Now the time of full harvest is upon us, and we are so busy in the fields.

This week we have had 10 people in the fields. We have been weeding, planting, preparing ground, tying up cucumbers and tomatoes and of course harvesting. It is local people (this year we have loads of local teenagers join the team) harvesting local food. 

As always thank you for your support.

Kenneth

Harvest Begins

As I write, it is a beautiful evening, the sun has just emerged from behind a cloud and there is a golden bright sunset. It seems we are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel.  It is not before time too as we fast approach the summer solstice.                                           

Food has always brought people together. Two generations ago the act of bringing in the hay was a sociable event, square bales were loaded onto trailers, picnics or sandwiches were often had in the fields followed by a cold drink at the end of the day, chat and talk and craic was had by all.

In our continued march towards bigger more intensive agricultural systems the people have all but disappeared from the fields having been replaced by machines.  This it seems is the price of progress and maybe to a certain extent it is necessary, but it makes me a little sad. Maybe it is nostalgia?  As a kid having brought in that hay, I remember the sun and the sandwiches and the people. But when I think a little more, I also remember the blisters and the terrible heat and scratchiness of having to heave those bales to the very top of a galvanised hay shed, those bit’s I do not miss.

The machines on our farm facilitate the work and we do everything we can to avoid having to hand weed vegetables rows that are nearly half a kilometre in length.  That job is no fun and where there is a smarter way to do something, we take it.

Finding solutions to repetitive work is a must on small-scale mixed organic vegetable farms and we do, but we still have people in the fields every day and our farm is active and alive with people, vegetables, and biodiversity. 

We have been working very hard over the last six months to get the farm to the point it is at now.

Even so it seems that there are not enough hours in the day to keep up with the work. Everything has reached a crescendo and the list has been growing, what to prioritise during those rare dry days has become a source of pressure behind the eyes, we can only just keep doing the first things first.

The work always gets done the question is can we get it done in time? If we miss a sowing date, we don’t get second shot, we never regain those lost days, and the plants may struggle to reach maturity.

It’s a relatively small window and for the farm to reach it’s breakeven point and that’s all we ever hope for, we can afford to miss very few of those planting dates.

Here we are on the cusp on July and the list of produce harvested from the farm is steadily growing week on week. The first fresh bunches of beetroot, our own kale, salad, lettuce red and green, spinach and chard are ready. The cucumbers are a week away and the new potatoes 2-3 weeks away, the first of our own tomatoes are nearly there too, all we need is the sun.

Then there is the irony that as we come into our own produce as the farm finally starts to crank up a gear and we start to harvest the freshest produce we face a downturn in orders due to summer holidays and this year the impact is even greater as the country opens.

I would ask if you can at all, continue to support our farm, help get us through the summer months, we rely on your support to keep doing what we do.

So as the sun sets, there is no hay to bring in, but I look forward to a dry bright day tomorrow as we have big day of harvest before us.

Thank you for your continued support!

Kenneth

Resilience

Resilience is the ability to recover from difficulties. As an organic farmer growing vegetables in the West of Ireland being resilient then is something that you would think is second nature, hmmm???

Our farm may be a little more resilient than most by the virtue that it is smallish (40acres), organic, diverse (we grow loads of different varieties of vegetables) rich in biodiversity (hedgerows, trees, bees, wildflowers) and alive but it is still a constant challenge to make it all work.

In the short-term resilience costs, there is a cost to planting trees and hedgerows, there is a cost to leaving acres to go wild. There is a cost to growing many different crops and managing all the challenges that come with it, the cost of energy and time of training new people each year, the cost of keeping chaos at bay without the use of chemicals.

In the longer term, resilience in our food chain pays dividends, more bees to pollinate our plants, better soil structure reducing water logging and flooding, vibrant and healthy biodiversity that keeps pests in check. Ultimately resilience helps produce better, tastier, healthier food, so instead of focusing on producing things as cheaply as possible, we focus on producing things as sustainably as possible.

But a long-term approach to food production is not something that the major retailers seem to have any interest in. The short termism of the supermarkets may deliver cheap food but in the long run there will be a price to pay.

Endless machine repairs…

But a long-term approach to food production is not something that the major retailers seem to have any interest in. The short termism of the supermarkets may deliver cheap food but in the long run there will be a price to pay.

This is the question I keep returning to. We certainly do not have the deep pockets of the supermarkets and yet to an extent we are competing with them, they set the pricing, they devalue fresh food by loss leading. How can we compete and be sustainable and resilient at the same time? Well, the answer is we cannot, we cannot sell food for less than the value it takes to grow the food! There is no getting away from the fact that to protect our planet we need to produce different food and we need to do it sustainably; we need a fair and resilient food system.

So, I think in our little patch in the West of Ireland we will continue to plan to be more resilient. But this month on the farm a different form of resilience is being tested and we are being stretched to the limit. The weather has not been kind and it is putting us under a level of pressure that I don’t enjoy. Can you be resilient while falling behind with planting and weeding, never having enough resource, of the land being endlessly wet, of uncovering crops and finding 40% eaten by creatures. Endless setbacks bend your will, stretch your ability to stick with it, they make you want to quit, stop, turn back, and give up, but inside all of this messy stuff there is a deep-rooted commitment to keep going, a conviction (even if we can’t feel it) it will be better soon, it always is!

How easy it is to forget though? I am not new to this and after 15 years of farming in the West of Ireland wet ground and excessive rain in June should not be a shock. Maybe then it is just that I am older, and I wish things would be different. I know too in a month it will all look so different, but I find I must keep reminding myself of this. So that too is a form of resilience, to keep going even when you really do not feel like it.

Squashes being planted into bio-plastic, compostable weed suppressant

Here is to each of us being more resilient and to a more resilient food system!

Thank you.

Kenneth

Seeing the Wood for the Trees

This week we got a little card, and the timing could not have been better. 

The weeks when you are at your most desperate, when life seems to be throwing all sorts of everything at you, when it is relentless, those are the days when a little smile or a nod of appreciation can make all the difference. 

It is funny, you push, and you shove, and you try to make things the way you want them, but in the end, life goes its own way anyhow, there is nothing like farming to shatter theillusion that we have some modicum of control over externalevents.

We want things to be a certain way, to go a certain way, to meet our expectations, and it can be a struggle to let go and accept that we have very little control, it is so ingrained in us. We want to be in control.

As the farm has grown, every year springtime seems to bring an increased powerful pressure to get things done, our resilience is tested, the window is short, the weather is always looming in the background, the rain is never far away.

I am impatient to have more done, to have the ground ready, to have the plants in, to the have the seeds sown to have the tunnels full, but this year nature and events is just not accepting of my impatience. Mother nature has given me a rap on the knuckles, ‘all your rushing will achieve very little’ she whispers!

There has been broken machines, endless rain, cold, frost, delayed plants amongst some of the challenges. The more pressure you feel the harder it can be to see the wood for the trees and appreciate what you have, and it is exactly at times like this when you need to take stock the most.

The fields are saturated, the plants are slow, the slugs are abundant, the machines don’t like the wet soil and the soil does not like them. It does more damage that it is worth to bring a tractor onto a wet field. But sometimes you have no choice.

At the very same time, the hawthorn is in full flower and smells amazing, our local fox struts around the farm as if she owns the place. I am nearly sure this morning I had a full conversation with a starling, and maybe this wasn’t the first sign that I am finally losing the plot! What patches of blue sky we see highlight the beauty of the colds and make us appreciate the sun all the more when it finally does come out, and come it will!

Then there is a contented feeling of seeing the first tomatoes on the plants, of seeing the first baby cucumbers of harvesting our first outdoor crops of lettuce and chard and spinach. I guess we can also see more of what we look for. 

The very best moment though this week was receiving this lovely card/poem that was sent through from a family that are doing the Little Green Fingers course. 

This helped make everything worthwhile again, completely unlooked for and yet at the perfect time 😊

So, thank you Orlaith and Gus and thank you universe and thank you our customers.

Kenneth

Food Waste

Hopefully we will all be doing what the carrots in this photo are doing soon!

Over the last 15 years we have seen a fair bit, and although generally things are never black and white, one thing stands out for me as being just that: food waste. Whatever way you look at it, it is wrong.

We work really hard here to reduce food waste, it is not always possible, but it is one of our core values. There are times when the quality just is not good enough and we will never ever compromise on the quality of what we send out in our boxes.

We grow our own food so we have a very good understanding of what is ok and what is not. We make sure we harvest as close to packing the boxes as possible, we work with other growers to ensure we have the freshest best produce. 

But there is one thing we never do, we never discriminate based on looks, on wonkiness. If a carrot is wrapped around another carrot will we grade it out? Absolutely not, we will CELEBRATE it, If a potato is showing a little cheekiness, well that is absolutely ok with us. In fact, we want vegetables like that.

This ‘WONKY’ food tastes the same, it has the same nutritional value, it looks the same on our plates it has been grown sustainably on organic land. It makes a lot of sense to us to NOT grade out vegetables like that. I guess we are pretty lucky that we do not have to conform to supermarket standards, that we set out own standards and we can do this because we know you our customers are ok with getting cheeky potatoes every now and again.

Ultimately, we appreciate this because we know how hard it is to grow food. Right now, as I write, this we are behind with our planting, the weather is not being very seasonal, it is to reach 2C tonight and the temperatures have been very disappointing for May and heading into June it is still wet and cold.

I hope we get a break soon, as we have plants backing up waiting to go into the wet fields, and the plants that are already in the fields are behind where they should be. It is hard not to feel a little anxious, will the weather ever give us a break? Every year it is has, and this year I hope will be no different, so, we wait and be patient, there really is very little else we can do.

So, as a farmer when you consider all the effort required to produce the food it would be extremely disheartening to think the end result might be your produce being dumped in a bin. We have designed a food storage fridge magnet flyer to help you in the first step to avoid food waste – correct storage and using your delicate fruit and veg first is key. It’ll be packed in all the boxes next week. We hope you find it useful! Read our blog about food waste here for more ideas on how to cut your food waste.

Many growers of course have these rules imposed on them by the people that hold the keys to the kingdom: the supermarkets. Food does get rejected based on appearance and this is something that gets under my skin, it is wrong for so many reasons.

Many growers of course have these rules imposed on them by the people that hold the keys to the kingdom: the supermarkets. Food does get rejected based on appearance and this is something that gets under my skin, it is wrong for so many reasons.

I believe we are promised warmth and full sun tomorrow and that is good, it means we can get on with the work of growing food, and that makes me happy. Our carrots when they come later in the season may not be perfectly perfect in shape, but they are prefect in every other way.

Thank you for supporting our farm and know that in doing so, not only are you contributing to reducing your carbon footprint, and reducing your waste burden on our planet, you are also contributing to reducing food waste and supporting these cheeky potatoes and loving carrots!

Thank you


Kenneth